The weekend's damp and blustery weather didn't stop a hearty band of homeless people and homelessness advocates from gathering at Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro to sing Christmas carols and to spread some good cheer.
The performance was one in a series of street shows performed by Singers of the Street, a choir made up of homeless and formerly homeless people and those who advocate for them. They were brought to the Castro by Pastor Megan Rohrer of Grace Lutheran Church, who's aiming to change the public perception of homeless people, one concert at a time.
"Some of the choir members live on the streets, others in communal housing or SROs," said Pastor Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns. "We don't limit the choir's membership to homeless individuals, because we don't want to punish singers who improve their quality of life."
Rohrer says they understand why so many people hold negative views of homeless people.
"If the only opportunity you have around homeless people is on their worst day, seeing them screaming in the streets, in the depths of addiction or in desperate need of food or shelter, it is easy to carry negative stereotypes," they said. "Our performances are an opportunity for our audiences to have enjoyable encounters with the homeless."
Rohrer said they conceived Singers of the Street to help give the homeless and marginally housed something to look forward to during long, cold nights on the street or in shelters. "The skills learned in choir rehearsal, help individuals become more likely to successfully navigate the system of care," they said. "And each rehearsal is followed by a lunch that calms hunger."
They said the group's members regularly check in and support each other, with some encouraging others to pursue health care and support services. The group even has a CD, Singing For Our Supper, that's available on Amazon and iTunes, with proceeds paying for lunch at its rehearsals.
Sunday's group of singers, led by Pastor Rohrer, was small but cheerful, honoring requests from passerby and often deciding spontaneously which song to perform next. In addition to holiday tunes, they also sang secular music, including "One," the finale number from the Broadway musical A Chorus Line.
They earned praise from many who saw the performance, including a Muni streetcar driver who gave them a thumbs-up as she waited for a red light.
"When the members of Singers of the Street sing, you can hear the depth of their experience," Rohrer said. "Their songs of joy are infectious, even when they don't quite hit all the notes. If the homeless can sing and be joyful, then we should all be able to find hope and love in the world."
Singers of the Street will perform at 2pm next Sunday, December 18th behind the tennis courts at Dolores Park, and at 10:30am next Monday, December 19th, at Powell and O'Farrell streets in Union Square. To get involved, visit them on Facebook or email Pastor Megan Rohrer directly.
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